You suffered three strokes at the age of 38. Were there any warning signs that something was wrong? If so, what did you think they could mean?
I had tingling and loss of feeling in my fingers and hand, my fingers turned cold and eventually blue, and I had pain shooting down my arm. It came and went, gradually getting worse as time went by. But I was doing a heavy promotional tour for Kull, the Conqueror at the time they started getting really annoying, so I consulted with doctors at the various hotels—probably five of them over those eight days. There was an explanation that I had hit my funny bone that explained the symptoms, and the doctors also said they thought in any case it probably wasn’t serious. Of course, I didn’t want to believe it was anything, either.
What were your diagnosis and your prognosis?
Initially my diagnosis was cancer, but they didn’t tell me that, thankfully. When they had all the answers that made sense, they diagnosed me with an aneurism in my shoulder that had spewed off so many clots—had clotted off a good portion of my left arm, blockages all the way down. I had also suffered three strokes—they called them mini-strokes, but it turned out they were much more sinister than that. When they finished sending clot-busters into my arm through a tube that went from my groin through my heart to my shoulder, they embollized the aneurism with platinum coils and got me off the Heparin (blood thinner). Then they sent me back to work on a movie I had scheduled in Atlanta.
That didn’t work out too well, because I collapsed on set. That was when the strokes reared their ugly heads. A new neurologist changed my prognosis to questionable and sent me home to only walk an hour a day and do nothing else for five to seven weeks. They simply said there was no way to tell how much improvement I could expect, which was tough because I was really strung out and suffering. They did say the bulk of my recovery would happen within the initial three to six months, and luckily that wasn’t true for me, either.
For how long were you hospitalized?
My first hospitalization was eight days or so. Then I went back to the ER in Atlanta and was admitted for a couple of days.
Why did you decide to turn to alternative medicine, and did you find it to be effective?
I turned to alternative medicine because traditional western medicine just wasn’t doing enough and I actually had trouble with the drugs that were prescribed. A friend suggested one practitioner and my wife found an acupuncturist, and they both turned out to be quite effective.
You played Hercules—an invincible character—yet you were physically incapacitated in real life. How did this irony affect your daily mindset, especially during filming?
I am very thankful that I had the character of Hercules to put on every day on set, even though the first several weeks I didn’t even work more than ten hours per week. I had taken the rest of my hiatus, the time they had set aside for me to shoot my movie, and then they gave me an extra week as well, because I literally could barely stand up straight. I was terribly dizzy and nauseated, had roaring headaches, and my vision was impaired with a big black blind spot that was very disorienting. I certainly couldn’t do fights or any fast movement, for that matter. But that said, Hercules gave a reason to get out of bed. Without that guy, I’m not sure what would have become of me. It was ironic, yes, and everybody on set was in on the joke, but we were all quite dependent on Hercules in a very serious way. The studio and producers were also very invested in the show, and we were all supposed to benefit greatly by getting to the magic 100th episode, so they were more than willing to make whatever adjustments were necessary to allow me to heal as best as I could under the circumstances. It was slow going, though.
How were you able to keep working when your body was so tired and still healing?
I kept going because I was determined not to let the illness win. I would put as much energy as I could on set, and when I got home I’d just collapse. I didn’t give up hope. In a sense I was lucky that I was an anomaly, because the prognosis was wrong from the start, so when they told me three or six months, and then my progress would be halted, I also didn’t believe it. I certainly feared they might be right, but I was determined to prove them wrong!